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Players with Personality

Instead of cherishing players who break the dull and dreary mold of the modern footballer, we ostracize them. Why?

Michael Regan

One of the best things about football and sports in general is an athlete with personality. These rare players break the media-trained puppet mold, a welcome respite from the drones that regurgitate the same answers to the same questions interview after interview, the dull and flatlined masters of the ubiquitous postgame conference.

When you discover an athlete, regardless how "heel" or "face" they may be, that is willing to express themselves, bare their thoughts and heart to the public, it feels like discovering the chalice of life. Yet, for whatever reason, these players who are treasured for their honestly of expression are equally hated and lambasted until they become as dull as the rest.

One recent example is the curious case of Emmanuel Frimpong. The combative young midfielder seems to receive an inordinate amount of hatred from both rival fans and Arsenal fans alike in contrast to the love shown to the likes of Jack Wilshere and Carl Jenkinson. This is not a question of who is more skilled than the others -- Jack easily wins that race, though I believe there's an argument between Frimpong and Jenkinson -- this is strictly the question of why a player who has been at the club since the age of nine receives more hate that the rest of his peers.

I say 'actual fan' because if you attend a game or just take a look at fans on social media, they're loud, passionate, unreasonably arrogant, severely lacking in self-awareness and display such cult-like behavior that you're left at least a little impressed that they (we?) survive through any game. These are all the things that Frimpong essentially is; he also happens to play for the club that he supports.

We might have expected that to endear him to the club's supporters, but it seems to be the opposite. Players with personality seem to be like wildfires, something to be gawked at from afar but never up close. They're clowns that people love to laugh at when they go to the circus but want no part of when they return home. Frimpong, the polar opposite of a media-trained athlete is always ridiculed for his opinions, while Jenkinson, the definition of quiet and reserved, is praised.

Jack Wilshere, meanwhile, is just as much of a fan as the previous two, but started off as a Frimpong and then transitioned to a Jenkinson. Jack and Frimpong essentially grew up together in the academy and when the former was on Twitter, it was clearly evident that he was a supporter of the dreaded "DENCH" movement (dark times for all of us), he argued with rivals fans and antagonized Piers Morgan just as much as his "mate", and was criticized by the fans just as frequently.

Wilshere eventually decided to delete his Twitter, restricting his social media presence to Facebook where he showers us with post game congratulations and motivation and now, minus a few rival fans and crazy lunatics, the love for him has tripled, his fandom celebrated, even when he rashly goes chest-to-chest with opposition players. When Frimpong loses his temper in the heat of the moment, he gets called an embarrassment.

This is not just an isolated incident, nor is it a question of skill. We all love Antonio Cassano's antics until he plays for our club -- then he's an idiot who needs to grow up. Mario Balotelli is a breath of fresh air for modern football and hilarious until he's wearing chicken hats and shooting off fireworks in bathrooms while playing for our club. Zlatan is an incredible talent and personality until he's trying to upstage Lionel Messi. Even Diego Maradona's utterly brilliant to watch and listen to so long as he's not managing our team in the world cup.

Outspoken talents are always great to watch from far away, but few of us like for them to be associated with our parent club. That's hypocritical in itself, but more perhaps damaging is that when they are at our clubs, there seems to be an agenda to criticize and suffocate until they are as dull as the rest. Few teams and fans actually embrace these players. Eric Cantona is revered at Manchester United and the already-mentioned Maradona is a legend in Naples but more often than not, rather than being happy to have a diamond in a world full of disingenuous coal, we chip our diamonds until they fit the mold.